A later but high quality 2018 vintage expected despite hail damage

Although northern Europe has been enjoying – or suffering, in the case of wheat farmers – an unusually hot and dry summer, the growing season in Spain has been running behind previous years due to the cool, wet winter and early spring that meant that sap rise and bud break occurred slightly later than in recent vintages.

This went some way to mitigating frost damage in many areas although not all, as parts of Ribeira Sacra and some 4.800ha of vines in La Mancha were damaged by temperatures as low as -2ºC at the start of May.

However, it was hail that was the big issue this year – with frequent thundery downpours causing localized damage between May and July. The end of May saw vines decimated by several localized hailstorms across Castilla-y-León, particularly in the DO Rueda, and at the end of June it was the vineyards of Rioja Alavesa that were hit by storms when 40l of water fell as hail in just twenty minutes. Further hailstorms on the 1st, 7th and 13th July added up to 7,000 hectares of damaged vines across La Rioja – the Rioja Alta being worst hit – the most serious in five years. In July, it was the Ribera del Duero that suffered, particularly on the 18th July, when hailstorms damaged vines in the provinces of Valladolid and Palencia, although nothing compared to the widespread damage caused in the region by frost in 2017.

The unusually wet conditions have also meant that producers have had to be vigilant in terms of treating the first signs of mildew, caused by a damp spring and sporadic storms throughout summer. In Bierzo, DO president Misericordia Bello, commented that production is expected to affected by problems with black rot and mildew, and harvest is not expected to start until the 15th September. In the southeast, our suppliers Barahonda in Yecla, Murcia also mentioned similar issues when William Long and Fernando Mariñas visited them in late August:

“Thankfully, the harvest will definitely be larger than last year, but we have seen some issues with oidium and botrytis due to the levante winds carrying humidity. Rather than the rain it was the morning mists that caused problems, as Monastrell prefers the typically dry conditions of this region, with daylong sunshine, but our hands-on approach in the vineyard means that we have been able to mitigate any quality issues. Things are running about three weeks behind usual, so we only started picking Merlot during the last week of August and the pips and tannins of the Monastrell grapes are still quite green although generally healthy. We will continue to keep a close eye on their development, and the weather forecasts, to determine the right moment for harvest.”

Temperatures since mid-June, except for a few very hot days at the start of August, have been quite moderate compared to recent years, allowing the grapes to ripen more steadily. Although in some previous vintages high temperatures have pushed the harvest forward to as early as the third week of July, the earliest harvests started this year during the second week of August – in DO Penedès in Catalunya, for example.

Despite sporadic issues, in general, production is expected to be of very good quality and of a quantity in line with historic averages, certainly larger than 2017’s particularly short vintage. The association of Spanish cooperatives, Cooperativas Agro-alimentarias de España has issued a preliminary estimate of between 42 and 43 M hl, in line with production in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Our winemaker Fernando Mora MW commented that despite it having been a complicated vintage in terms of storms and hail, which have affected production levels slightly, the quality of his grapes in Aragón is high with small, loose bunches of berries and good acidity levels:

“It has certainly been the wettest and one of the cooler vintages I’ve seen since I started making wine ten years ago and for making the fresher styles of wines that we do is a good thing. As we don’t irrigate, we were very grateful for the rain that fell at the start of the season – 350hl over the first four months of 2018, compared to 80hl last year, which caused the cycle to get back to normal dates rather than being early as it has been in recent years, but the heavy storms – on the 17th August 60l of rain fell in just 12 minutes – caused some complications. Some hail fell on one area of vines which will effect production but we’re managed to keep oidium at bay and the vines are looking very healthy. We are monitoring ripeness carefully and will start harvesting when the sugar levels reach 13-13.5% potential alcohol which looks to be around the 12th September for the white grapes, 15th September for the red grapes grown at lower altitude and 2 or 3 more weeks for the parcels at higher altitude which were still at 9.5-10% at the start of September.»

We’ll be keeping our ears to the ground to give you an update as harvest progresses.